Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Father’s Wine Goblets

Long faces greeted me when I returned from the clothesline. I’d been outside for barely five minutes but that was long enough for my little granddaughter to open the china cabinet.

“I’m sorry,” my daughter apologized.

“Is she okay?” With forty years of parenting behind me I like to think I have my priorities in order.

“Yes, but she broke a napkin ring.”

“Which one?”

My daughter showed me the damage. Now there was only one ring left in the set we’d received years ago as wedding present. As I shrugged off the damage and placed a chair in front of the china cabinet I wondered if I would have been so calm if it had been a ring from our new Wedgewood set. The answer is probably yes. For even a new Wedgewood napkin ring can be replaced.

We do have a number of items in our home, though, that cannot be replaced. Some have absolutely no monetary value but hordes of sentimental worth. Others have both. The best example of the later is my father’s crystal wine goblets.

Those goblets weren’t handed down in our family for generations. Rather, my father acquired them while serving as an American soldier in Germany. Collecting booty is common in times of war. So common, in fact, that guidelines for doing so are laid down in the Torah.

My father took the goblets from a German home. Most likely he was in that home interrogating its owner, probably a small Nazi official who was "just following orders". My father always said he liberated the goblets and he took pride in owning them.

Seventeen years ago, after my mother died, he insisted I bring the goblets to Israel. How I managed to bring them home without even chipping one of them is a miracle I’ll never understand. I’m just thankful I was able to do so.

Several years later when we were preparing to marry off our first child one of our kids came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. At every wedding the bridegroom breaks a glass to commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples. Usually the glass that’s broken is worth very little and no one feels badly about losing it. If we really want to honor the memory of the Holy Temple, he reasoned, we should break something really valuable, namely one of my father’s goblets.

This child’s idea wasn’t well received but he did have a point. How much do we really mourn the demolition of the Holy Temple? Yet, it is understandable that we aren’t more sincere in our sorrow. It’s hard to grief for something we never knew. We never saw the Holy Temple is its splendor. We never heard the Kohen Gadol announce HaShem’s name in the Yom Kippur service. We never smelled the unique scent of the incense. We never tasted the flavor of a holy sacrifice. We never felt the special stones in the Courtyard of the Holy Temple. No, we have no idea the extent of what we are missing and that is the biggest tragedy of all.

The Holy Temple was far more valuable than any napkin ring, china, crystal, or Wedgewood. Unlike my father’s wine goblets, though, it can be replaced. Its reconstruction lies in our hands, with our deeds and with our prayers. May it happen speedily in our days.

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